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Insurance, Fuel Costs Driving Royalton Budget

Royalton Town Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 5, at 10 a.m. in the South Royalton High School Auditorium to act on the warning articles. Voting by Australian ballot will be held from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to elect officers. The Royalton Town School District meeting will be held on Monday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m., in the high school auditorium to act on warning articles and elect officers from the floor.

South Royalton — Higher fuel costs and insurance premiums are pushing up next year’s town, school and highway budgets, and if voters approve the proposed spending plans during Town Meeting, property owners will be facing tax increases.

For the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1, the proposed town budget is up by 8.1 percent, from $928,584 to $1,004,046, and road spending would increase about 5.7 percent from $978,150 to $1,034,200, said Selectboard Chairman Larry Trottier, noting that town spending is up about $75,000 and the highway budget is increasing about $56,000.

“We’re not increasing salaries, but the largest reason the budgets are going up is the cost of insurance and fuel. We took about a $75,000 hit from (Tropical Storm) Irene, but that’s not terrible,” he said.

The combined increases would add about 5 cents to the town’s tax rate, raising it from 60.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 65.8 cents. For example, on a home assessed at $250,000, the increase would mean about $125 more per year in taxes.

Increases of about 40 percent in insurance costs also are behind the higher proposed school budget, which covers the funding and expenses for Royalton’s pre-kindergarten to high school system, said Donna Benoit, business manager for the Orange-Windsor Supervisory Union.

The overall proposed school budget is going up $156,025, or about 2.5 percent, from $6,064,588 to $6,220,613, Benoit said.

Adding to the budget tax increases is a drop in the number of students equalized against the state average and a decline in the town’s common level of appraisal, she said.

The common level of appraisal is a state formula intended to ensure that each town contributes its fair share of school taxes to the Vermont Education Fund. If assessed values in a town drop significantly below fair market values, the CLA adjusts the locally set tax rate upward. It can also push the tax rate lower if property values fall significantly below town assessments.

The result would be a tax increase of about 12 cents per $100 of assessed value, bumping the school tax rate from $1.38 to $1.50, Benoit said. For a home valued at $250,000, the increase would mean an additional $300 a year in school taxes.

There are no dramatic increases in salaries in the schools next year, and only three of four vacant positions are being filled.

Savings from that position are helping with the cost of an increased language program and with starting to provide students with laptop computers, said Tom “Geo” Honigford, chairman of the School Board.

“We have a new principal and a new vision. We’re trying to prepare our kids for the future, and these two programs will help. Our budget is up 2.5 percent, but that’s lower than the state average of 4.9 percent,” he said.

Also on the town warning is a request for a $23,745 funding increase from the South Royalton Rescue Squad. The squad has about 30 full- and part-time employees, Trottier said. The additional funding would increase the squad’s funding from $122,510 to $146,255, and would add another penny to the tax rate or about $25 to the tax bill of a $250,000 home.

“It’ll be up to the voters to decide on the article, but they do a pretty good job,” he said.

Trottier said there also will be a discussion of the plans for new town offices in the Crawford building on Route 14.

The renovation of the old car dealership is expected to cost about $1.5 million and would provide office space for the town and the police department. There also is a proposal under consideration to provide space for the rescue squad.

The only contested office on the ballot is a race for the collector of delinquent taxes, which pits incumbent Ilerdon Mayer against Bonnie Kenyon.

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.